BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for August 24, 2010
BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for August 25, 2010

Welcome, student friends, to the Bull City show

This BCR post was originally published on Aug. 21, 2007. In honor of the arrival of Duke first-years today and of NCCU first-years and students last week, we're republishing this here with minor edits for their benefit -- and that of those many daily readers who've started reading BCR since then.

I wanted to dedicate this morning's post to Durham's newest residents -- its fair college students, matriculating at NC Central University or Duke University for the first time, perhaps, or returning for a further year of studies. 

The ride into town is a bit less magical than the Hogwarts Express (please do dodge the potholes, they're not just there for the aesthetics), but once you're here, I hope you'll join in in discovering the great things that the Bull City has to offer.

What's that, you say? There's great things in Durham? Surely I jest, you must think.

Well, I'm not kidding. But I understand where you're coming from. 

In the early 1990s, when I was touring college towns to make my own undergraduate choice, I took a look at Durham and headed right back to I-85. It wasn't until a number of years later that I realized that Durham was the right place for my wife and I to live, the place we felt most at home anywhere we'd lived on the East Coast. (I've chronicled that transformation on this earlier blog post.)

I think one of the most jarring things for many new residents of the Bull City -- particularly those hailing from Long Island, or Newton/Wellesley, or Plano, or Manassas, or the like -- is that Durham doesn't look like suburban America. Everything isn't tied up in neat subdivisions and strip malls, outparcels and freeways. 

Those things exist here, too, but there are actual streets and blocks that haven't (entirely) been torn up for re-development. There are old tobacco and textile factories that haven't been demolished, but instead form the bulk of the skyline.

There are poor people here -- wealthy people, too, but plenty of poor people. And African-Americans and Latinos and Asians and Native Americans, and Caucasians too.

Many of you moving here for the first time have never lived in a place like this. Growing up in Winter Park, Florida just outside Orlando, I know I didn't. 

Sure, Winter Park had a largely-minority and largely poor area, literally on the west side of the railroad tracks. After the eastern side gentrified and became million-dollar estates, of course, that city turned across the tracks and noticed for the first time a community it ignored and marginalized for decades. 

Winter Park then did an excellent job of supporting the vast buy-up of that community to become day spas and bistros, too. (Creating an "African American History Museum" across from one of the bistro districts was an ironic touch -- especially since the black community in Winter Park is, increasingly finding African-American residents a thing of the past there, too.)

Yet Durham's diversity is one of the most attractive and important things the Bull City has to contribute -- not just to the Triangle, or the state or the country, but to you as an individual. You see, what you're seeing here isn't an anomaly. It's what America is really like.

Durham parallels the absurd extremes of wealth and poverty that make up America, and reflects demographic trends and realities not often reflected in most of our towns, those which have long been segregated through legal or simply economic means. You don't see it in most places; cities and towns in our country generally house the poorest and least privileged or their inverse, not most.

I'd encourage you to ask yourself not why Durham is what it is -- wonderful in many ways, flawed in others -- but to ask why our country is as it is, and what all of us can do to change it.

Durham, if anything, seems at times a respite from the partisan sniping that's taken place in this country since the election of George W. Bush, and that's worsened since Pres. Obama's inauguration.

In suburban hellholes like Murfreesboro, Tennessee and in urbane places like Manhattan, battles over where (or if) mosques should be allowed are the latest craze among those who love the Constitution and private property rights but somehow forgot to read the First Amendment.

In Durham, a group buys up the Parkwood neighborhood's shopping center (once hoped to become a new rec center if the City could have afforded it) and announces they will raise money over several years to build a mosque on the site.

What do Parkwood neighbors do? They throw them a welcome party and encourage interfaith dialogue. Not a peep of angst or anger in public view.

That's Durham in a nutshell.

But let's turn to some advice you can use.

First, go to Southpoint -- but go beyond it. Yes, The Cheesecake Factory is a neat place to eat. But it's just as neat in Chicago or San Diego as it is in Durham. On the other hand, Durham is home to Magnolia Grill, acclaimed as one of the dozen or so very best gourmet restaurants in the entire country, located in walking distance from Duke's East Campus.

In fact, since this story was originally published in '07, plenty of new foodie destinations have opened up or grown, from Watts Grocery to Rue Cler to Piedmont to Locopops to a range of great taquerias to the food truck craze. Oh, and when you're old enough to buy alcohol, Sam's Quik Shop is your mecca.

Visit the Brightleaf Square area, with a unique mix of shops and restaurants, from Morgan Imports to Satisfactions to Alivia's to Parker & Otis. Or stop by the American Tobacco Historic District, to see a Bulls game or go to Tobacco Road or catch a show at the DPAC. Or go downtown to Beyu Caffe (owned by a passionate Duke alum) for great coffee and better jazz; maybe a movie at the Carolina.

The point is, you've probably lived in suburbia all your life. You're in an urban area -- a small one, yet an urban one. Live in it, and enjoy it.

Second, while you should use the common sense inherent in any urban area, enjoy the city and be willing to experience it, day or night. 

My first year working at Duke, the night all the parents left two wide-eyed freshmen stopped me on East Campus about off-campus dining options. When my colleagues and I suggested Ninth Street, they asked with fear in their voice, "Is it safe to walk there at night?"

The answer is not simply, "well, yeah." It's deeper than that. 

You should feel free to take in the Bull City just as you would in Salt Lake City, or St. Paul, Mn., or Savannah, or Hartford -- that is, all perfectly nice cities that rank about the same on the crime meter. The streets of Durham aren't a Disneyfied Main Street -- thank goodness -- but you're not exactly walking down the streets of Baghdad either, to say the least.

These days, the Bull City Connector provides a fare-free ride between Duke, downtown and the Golden Belt arts complex until midnight, while Central students can take Route 5 inbound fare-free and connect to other services.

Third, learn the history of the Bull City. This should be a priority for college students anywhere, but it's especially home in Durham. Durham's the home of the Piedmont blues. The one-time home of Minor League Baseball. 

Once one of the richest boomtowns of America, with fortunes made and lost in tobacco. 

And for the past two generations, the home of innovation and R&D from IBM, GlaxoSmithKline, RTI, and hundreds of startups.

You can experience this history on Preservation Durham's walking tours of downtown and the histories of civil rights and tobacco in the Bull City. Or at the Endangered Durham web site. Or the Hayti Heritage Center.

No matter what, I'd encourage you not to just make Durham a place you pass through for four years. It's going to be a home for probably five or more percent of your life. You won't find many places in the United States where you can volunteer, can become engaged in civic life, and get involved from day one more than Durham.

So don't just live in Durham. Live Durham.


Andrew Edmonds

Hey, Kev, thanks for the shout-out (twice!):

"You can experience this history on Preservation Durham's walking tours of downtown and the histories of civil rights and tobacco in the Bull City..."

Read more about the tours, here:


Great post Kevin. My cousin has been with us the past few days and moves into the dorm today. I can't wait for him to read this. You summed it up fantastically.


Thanks again for this Kevin, it's always a good reminder of why I love Durham.

Doug Roach

This post is exactly what I've been unable to say as eloquently since we moved here a short while ago. Thanks, Kevin. Well done.

Nathaniel H. Goetz

Thanks, Kevin! Just had a family friend start at Duke and shared this with him! Great job!

Liz Schoeneberger

Great info on Durham. As a Real estate Agent, this will become part of my Welcome to Durham package. thanks Kevin

Frank Hyman

Been living in Durham for over 25 years and have loved every day of it. Thanks for telling our story so well Kevin.

Dan S.

Kevin, thanks for this.

I was trying to come up with a concise, yet inclusive spiel on Durham for my Freshman advisees, when I meet them tomorrow afternoon.

(With 20+ years of non-consecutive experience in Durham, and my proclivity for proselytizing, it wasn't turning out to be an easy task.)

Adam Haile

Kevin, very well said. Thank you!


GREAT Article!

Kelly Lilley

What a great article. I was born and raised in Durham and I'm so excited to read posts like this one.


We moved here 4 and a half years ago as Katrina refugees, with the intention of finishing grad school and moving on. Now we're both teachers for DPS and house hunting for our first place. Viva Durham!

Mike Schoenfeld

I wasn't here for the first-run publication but the revision is a brilliant homage to our fair city. Well done, Kevin, and strongly recommended reading for our newest students. They may hail from 48 states and 54 countries...but there's only one Durham.


So can you recommend a similar homage, but for (or by) someone arriving from the opposite end of the spectrum?

I mean, suppose one were just moving here for, say, grad school-- from, say, the Bay Area of CA, or one of the Four Relevant Boroughs, or some other eminently walkable, functional, dense, diverse and dynamic hyperurban environment. Suppose such a person were afraid after a few days that it might to be tough to adapt to a relatively *less* walkable environment. Suppose such a person were open minded, and wanting very much to fall in love with this place as you have.

Where can such a person find tips/perspective?


I'm going to venture that what the above person finds here instead is community. They go to a bar and realize that not only can they talk to the person sitting next to them, but they might just end up at their cookout later in the same day where they meet some local musicians who invite them to a show or house party next week.

Liz Ananat


As someone who moved here 4 years ago from Boston, I feel where you're coming from. But I have discovered that Durham is nearly as walkable as my heart-of-the-city neighborhood was there. The difference is that Durham, unlike Boston, is *also* driveable, which means that a lot of people opt to drive here. But that doesn't mean you can't live a happy car-free existence here!

The key is to live downtown. I live in the DAP, and there is a corner store across the street, a dry cleaners 1 block away, a fabulous bar (Full Steam) 2 blocks away, the farmers market 3 blocks away. Some of the best restaurants in town (Piedmont, Pops, etc.) are 4 blocks away (right next to some great art galleries, boutiques, more bars), and a great movie theater (the Carolina) is 6 blocks away. My hair salon (at West Village) is 4 blocks away, and my dentist (on Broad Street) is about a mile. All these distances compare favorably to my equivalent venues back in Boston.

I work on Duke's west campus, so I walk to East Campus (4 blocks away), and take a (free) 5-7 minute bus ride (buses show up every 5 minutes). Total travel time, <25 minutes, compares favorably to my commute back in Boston. If you're a student at NCCU, there's the (free) Bull City Connector and NCCU add-on; there are also buses to UNC (my neighbor takes that every day).

One thing that's slightly annoying still is the grocery store (Whole Foods, about a mile). I can stop by on my way home, when I get to East Campus, but it's less than ideal and compares unfavorably to Boston (3 grocery stores within 1/2 a mile). *BUT*, this problem will soon be solved with Durham Central Market (to be located 4 blocks away).

To get to a big box store, like Home Depot, you can grab a Zip Car--but that's the same thing I had to do in Boston when I needed to go there.

So my lifestyle hasn't changed much living in downtown Durham vs. downtown Boston; although it took a little while to get used to the different landscape and to the fact that other people drive a lot, I'd argue that it's at *least* as walkable here (hey, no 4-ft. snow drifts in January! and fewer crazy drivers trying to run you over!).

And then you get the benefit, as Natalie said, of community. I know and love all my neighbors here (didn't even know their names in Boston). At bars, the salon, art shows, the farmers market, the movie theater, I am bound to run into people I know--and it is extra-rewarding to do so because we're all in the shared activity of supporting the town we love. That sense of common purpose is something I've never felt anywhere else the way I do here.

And if this isn't enough to make you stop missing your old city (e.g. "there's nothing like place X here," which was your favorite walkable haunt back home), bear in mind that most of the places I listed above didn't exist when I moved here 4 years ago. There are new things opening all the time, so I'd be willing to wager that by the time you graduate that thing you were missing will be right down the block. (And hey, if it's not you can always open it--did I mention how many of these cool new places were opened by urban transplants who came here for school, fell in love, and decided to stay?)

Erik Landfried

Excellent stuff Liz.

I grew up in Boston and spent some time there after college as well, so I also know the feeling.

Just to further Liz's point - not only are things improving seemingly every day in Durham, it's very easy to plug yourself in and help improve things here yourself! Sure, you can do that in Boston or San Francisco or NYC, but you're a small fish in a very big pond. Here you can be a bigger fish and every change you can help bring about is much more noticeable than what you could do in a place like Boston. Add a new bus line? You've just increased the transit service by 5%! Push the City to add three new sets of bike lanes? You've just doubled the amount of bike lanes!

I have a lot of friends from grad school (UNC) who went back to awesome urban areas like DC, Seattle, San Francisco, etc. after graduation. And they are doing incredible work there - pushing the envelope on what urban areas are capable of. Some of us stuck around and while we may not be pushing the envelope as much as just helping bring badly needed basic services to the area, that's pretty freakin' important too and it's very satisfying when those positive changes do occur.

I don't fault anyone for moving back to big urban areas - it tempts me all the time. But this area is becoming one of those cool urban areas again and I get to be a small part of that. How cool is that?

Kelly Jarrett

@asking: the other thing about Durham is that the coolest and most endearing things about it--the engaged citizens, the sense of community others have referred to, the amazing amount of artists and musicians and creative folks who are aren't always shiny and showy and on display. They're participants in the ongoing life of the community. Just a couple of examples: music during a Friday dinner hour at Parker & Otis--grab a beer & a sandwich and enjoy great music with 40-50 folks. No neon sign. No tickets. No cover. A big glass jar passed between sets for tips. All ages. Our neighborhood has street fests a couple of times a year and some of the very generous musicians in the neighborhood round up some friends and provide music. So folks bring a potluck dish and a couple of lawnchairs, fire up a grill and give the kids some chalk to keep 'em busy drawing pictures on the street and you're off. A great afternoon of jazz, folk, or R&B tunes, some relaxing, some dancing in the street, good food and conversation with your neighbors. And, of course, the corny, corny but really great 4th of July parade at Oval Park where people dress up their kids and their dogs in stars and stripes, follow the fire truck around the block, and then drink lemonade and sing a couple rounds of America the Beautiful together. These events can plug you into a neighborhood and a community--but they're often not flashy and are easily overlooked by those looking to replicate "hyperurban" coolness.
The other thing that's great about Durham is that it is still small enough that you can get politically involved and have an impact on important local issues. It is amazingly easy here to get to know your local elected officials, chief of police, city & county managers, and important leaders in the NGO, arts, and other communities. Pick an issue--urban planning & development, community policing & quality of life, environment, education, public transportation, whatever. You can connect to local politicians and activists who are working on this and really have an impact.
And the other thing that really defines Durham--and that is often misrepresented in the press--is that the citizens here are really engaged with the community and with each other. When local officials have public hearings on issues--the public shows up and speaks up. We disagree with each other, challenge each other, and organize to push for issues we care about. To me, this is an indication that Durham's diverse neighborhoods and citizens feel they have a right to participate in the civic life of our community. The conflicts, squabbles, and disagreements are actually a sign of the vitality and connectedness of the community--not a sign of division and opposition that its often interpreted as by those looking in from the outside.


you guys are just r6c!st against the suburbs!!!

viva Suburban Sprawl!!! Viva SouthPoint!! Viva Wal-Mart!!!

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